Monday, March 30, 2015

Umstead 100 2015 Race Report

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done any blogging. But, I just finished the Umstead 100 this weekend, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank my amazing crew, the RD, the volunteers, and the organizers of Umstead 100. What better way to do that than to share a race report? So here goes:

A Little Backstory
Shortly before Ginger and I moved to Blacksburg, we met some amazing VT Ultra folks at the Terrapin Mtn 50K last year. Brett Sherfy, Jordan Chang, and the rest of the VT Ultra crew made us feel welcome and they’ve really helped Ginger and me feel inspired about running since we moved to town. The community here in Blacksburg is amazing. Brett and Jordan encouraged me to get a slot in this year’s Umstead 100, so I did. And, I’m so glad.

Since I haven’t been blogging, I’ll start with talking about training. I had hurt my ankle last fall right before the Barkley Fall Classic (not the big boy Barkley Marathons, the BFC is a 50K that offers just a little taste of the real Barkley). Because I’m who I am (not a smart man) I kept racing and training through the fall. I had a rough, but satisfying day at the BFC, and then PR’ed at the Marine Corps Marathon and the Mountain Masochist 50 miler in October. I took some time off, and then paced Brett at Hellgate, where I rolled my weak ankle yet again. I had already signed up for Umstead, so I took the rest of December off and dove headlong back into training on January 1st.  I didn’t get to train as much as I normally would for a 100 because of lingering ankle issues and a bout with the flu, but I had a solid training cycle and managed a little over 400 miles from Jan 1 to March 22. Not ideal. But, good enough. I hoped.

I assembled a plan to have a good day. My goal was (1) to finish, (2) to get a PR (Less than 24:53:49), (3) to go sub 23, (4) sub 22. More important was than my plan was my crew. First, Ginger was at the helm again as my crew chief. I know that when she is the one looking out for me, I will have everything I need to be successful. There is not a more supportive wife and best friend anywhere in the world. She is also one hell of a pacer. Second, Ginger’s mom Lois was going to be there to help manage the crew. She’s dynamite. Her encouragement and enthusiasm are unparalleled. Then, the pacers: Josh, my brother from another mother, was going to be there to motivate me through the dark places. I look up to him in ways that he probably can’t figure out because he’s so humble. And Jordan, the most encouraging and nicest human being anyone has ever met would also be there to pace, fix my ailments, and make me laugh.


Fast Forward to Race Day
I showed up at the starting line for Umstead feeling good but apprehensive. My ankle was feeling better thanks to a lot of help from Jordan. He told me I’d be just fine at Umstead. But, there’s always that nagging question. Can I do it? 100 miles is a long way. My last two 100 mile attempts (Leadville and Rocky Raccoon in 2014) had not turned out well. I timed out at Hope Pass at Leadville in 2013 and hurt my ankle at mile 60 at Rocky in 2014. I HAD to get this Monkey off my back. Umstead was my chance to do so.

I woke up at 4 am on Saturday feeling good. That’s saying something because I don’t do mornings. It was cold. Like in the 30’s. I had slept well in the back of Jordan’s Honda Fit (it’s actually quite roomy), and I got dressed and all ready to go. I wore a long sleeve shirt, shorts, my red bandana (a tradition), 2XU calf sleeves, and a pair New Balance 1210. It had rained Friday and Friday night, so I had 3 other pairs of shoes at the ready, but I hoped that it would stop raining so I wouldn’t have to waste time with shoe changes. Brett and I made our way to the start line after some time with our crew. Here's a shot of my and my awesome Crew Chief/Pacer


 Brett, Michelle, and Jordy


The race began in the dark. No rain. Just cold. The atmosphere was electric.

Lap 1: Miles 1-12.5
Planned Time: 2:20
Brett and I planned to run together as long as I could keep up with him. The first few miles went great as the explained the course layout to me. At mile 4, I had to stop at the port-o-john. My anxiety about getting the 100 monkey off my back was wreaking havoc on my stomach, so we split up so I wouldn’t slow him down at all. I managed to make the stop quick, and I was back out on the loop. I felt great and ran easy. I managed to have a great lap in spite of a few pit stops. I was quick in and out of the crew stop. So quick that I forgot to give Ginger a hug before I got too stinky. I felt bad about that.
Actual time 2:11

Lap 2: Miles 12.5-25
Planned Time: 2:30
Lap two was uneventful. I managed to chat with some new friends along the course, and I just ran easy- keeping my heart rate low and reminding myself that this was going to be a fun day. The course was great. I was enjoying the short climbs at a hiking pace and running the flats and downhill stretches. I got in an out of the crew stop and HQ aid station quickly thanks to my amazing crew. As I came through each time Ginger, Josh, Lois, and Jordan quickly changed out my hand bottle and gave me what I needed. I think I remembered to give Ginger a big hug. I hope I did.
Actual Time: 2:12

Lois keeping warm and Jordy Hanging out



Lap 3: Miles 25-37.5
Planned time: 2:35
Lap 3 was awful. My right knee felt like it got a knife stuck in it right before Aid Station 2 (mile 6.8 on the loop). I had been having a great race up to that point. But now, my knee was killing me. I was really worried. I kept thinking: “Oh no. Not again. I am NOT going out like this. There HAS to be a solution to this problem.” I decided to just walk the rest of the lap and get help when I got there. I was not ready or willing to give up. I saw Brett a few miles from the Start/Finish and Crew area and told him quickly that I was having trouble. I felt bad about spreading any bad vibes, but he made me feel better. I came down the hill to the Crew Station on my way to the S/F and told Jordan, Josh, and Ginger that I was having trouble. I knew they could help, so I went to the S/F aid station, fueled up, and then went to get fixed up. Jordan, Josh, and Alan Needle (my buddy who’s an athletic trainer at App. State) were on me like white on rice. Josh said, “It’s going to be OK, brother.” Jordan went right into fix it mode, made sure I was only hurting and not injured, and busted out the Kinsio tape. He taped me up and then Allen added his Athletic Trainer skills and made sure the tape would stay. They were like a NASCAR pit crew banging out the dent in a wrecked car and sending it back on the track. Within 30 minutes, I had a taped knee and dry socks (to avoid blisters). I grabbed my headphones so I could listen to some podcasts to get me out of my own head. Off I went. I decided I would just walk until I couldn’t walk anymore. I figured that if I was really injured my knee would swell and that would let me know. If it didn’t I was HTFU and push through. I had lost 30 minutes by walking so much on this lap, and I knew I had just lost lap 4 time with the taping, but I shifted my goal. Now finishing was the goal. I didn’t care of it took me 29:59:59. I was just going to finish.
Actual Time: 3:03

Lap 4: Miles 37.5-50
Planned Time: 2:40
I set out limping onto lap 4. I said, “Walk to the end of the airport spur. When you get back to the gate, you can bail if you have to. If you can, in the words of Gordy Ainsleigh, “Take one more step. Take one more step and just keep going until you can’t.” I felt a little better at the gate. I decided to push for AS #2 at mile 6.8 of the lap. I figured I could get a ride back from there if I had to quit. But, I didn’t want to quit. By the time I reached AS#2, I felt great. No more knee pain. It was MAGIC! Even though I started the lap with 30 minutes spent sitting in a chair, I finished the lap in 3:04! I was 10 minutes faster in actual moving time than I had planned. I came in at 10 hours and 40 minutes for 50 miles after losing an HOUR to the knee debacle. I knew from this point on that I would finish. And finish strong. My crew had saved my race! I am so grateful to them.
Actual Time: 3:04

Lap 5: Miles 50-62.5
Planned Time: 2:50
I left the Crew Station with buoyed spirits and Ginger at my side. I was so excited to finally have her pacing me at a 100 miler. Lots of people might not understand what this means, but to me it was glorious. To be able to share the trail and this special goal with my wife and best friend is just something special. We talked about running, our life since moving to BBurg, and our hilarious dog and cats. It was so much fun. She kept me moving and kept my spirits high. We speed hiked up the hills and Ginger laughed because I was walking up the hills faster than she walks at the Kroger, which is fast! We crushed that lap and came in way under my planned pace. We made it past the 100K mark with daylight to spare.
Actual time: 2:26

Lap 6: Miles 62.5-80
Planned Time: 3:05
Josh joined me for lap 6. Josh is a special kind of person. I won’t talk about his job because he’s too humble for me to talk about his job without making him sound like the bad ass that he is, but let’s just say he deserves more respect than anyone can ever show him. More than that though, Josh understands friendship and brotherhood in ways that few people do. I treasure spending time suffering with him out on the trail. He’s uniquely talented in the art of HTFU, and he kept us moving at an amazing clip! He told me stories that made me laugh, and we talked about everything under the sun as we passed runner after runner. We’d set our sights on someone, and track them down, tell them they were doing great, and then blow by them. It was awesome!
Actual Time: 2:40- That’s a 12:48 average pace for miles 62-80. Seriously!

Lap 7: Miles 80-92.5
Planned Time: 3:20
Ginger was ready to go to take me back out for Lap 7. I was feeling great. I was tired, and my quads were shredded. But, the energy at the Crew Station was high. Lois was full of encouragement. I was psyched to get to spend another lap out on the course with my awesome bride. We stepped it out and Ginger just kept encouraging me and telling me how great I was doing. She picked up right where Josh left off in terms of helping us pass person after person. It was so much fun. One of my favorite memories of the race was just walking with her, running where I could manage, and talking about how great our life is. We are so lucky. One of my other favorite moments of the race was meeting up with Dan Lenz early in the lap. Dan was crushing the course. Early in the lap, we ran into Dan when he was on his way to the finish. Dan is an amazing guy and one of the strongest runners out there. I called after him to tell him he was doing great and tell him that he was an inspiration. Dan, who was in contention for the win, stopped, walked back to me, shook my hand and told me I was doing great. I was so impressed by that. Here he is in contention for the win and he stops, goes back down a hill to encourage me before heading back out to turn in an amazing performance. That’s why I love Ultras. That’s what this community is about. So cool! Ginger kept me moving quickly and we made it back to the S/F ahead of schedule.
Actual Time: 3:10

Lap 8; Miles 80 to 100
Planned time: 3:35
As Ginger and I came into the Crew Area, Josh was all ready to go to take me on the final lap. Brett Sherfy was nearly finished at this point. Jordan was out pacing him to the finish, so it was up to Josh to get me home. Josh was still wrapped up in a sleeping bag (it was cold), but he dropped the bag and said, “Let’s go brother. We got this. It’ll be the easiest 12.5 mile ruck of your life because you won’t have a ruck on. Let’s go!” So we did. We moved it out as quickly as I could manage. Another race highlight: Josh and I are walking along telling stories and someone comes HAULING ASS up from behind us. We were like, Who THE HELL is moving that fast at this time of night? Of course it was Jordan. Not content to only get Brett finished in a good time, Jordan literally sprinted from the finish line out onto the course to track us down. I’m sure it was good Boston Marathon training for him since we had a four mile head start. He joined us and laughed and encouraged us as we moved through the final lap. We had a blast. I loved every second of the stories he had to tell about Brett’s final lap. Maybe Brett write a race report. I hope so.
Actual Time: 3:25

Total Time: 22:51:00. New PR by 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 49 seconds. All thanks to my amazing crew!



I can’t say thank you enough to Ginger, Lois, Jordan, Josh, Brett, and Michelle. You helped me reach a goal that was really important to me. More than that, I am grateful to have shared the weekend with you.

Here’s a link to my Strava data if you’d like to see more about the course profile:


What you need to know about Umstead 100
·      If you haven’t done this race, do it. The RD, the organizers, and the volunteers are literally the best. They want everyone to be successful. They take care of every runner. From first place to the last runner, they make everyone feel welcome and cared for. They take care of your crew like you would want them to: like family. That’s important. And uncommon.


·      The course is fast, the footing is great, the aid stations are top-notch, and the vibe is electric.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon- Another PR is Always a Good Thing

The trip to D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon was a success. Ginger, YD, and I rolled out of Boone Friday night and made our way up to PA to hang out with my parents for the night. It was great to see them, and YD was psyched to see his grandparents. Saturday morning Mom, YD, and I took a little walk to go find a little coffee to fuel the drive down to D.C. for packet pickup. Glad we got lots of coffee because packet pick up was a Zoo! The lines were insane! I was prepared for a cluster, but I have to say it exceeded anything I could have imagined! It literally took hours to work our way through the lines. I guess I should have known. I've never run a huge race like this. I typically only enter ultras, and you'll never find 30,000 people looking to toe the line at a 50 or 100 miler. There just aren't that many people in the world who are deranged enough for that, I guess. But, we took it all in stride and had a good time with it. That's really all you can do, and this weekend wasn't about just running a race. It was about honoring our fallen brothers and sisters. One of the Always Brothers MCM runners, John Straseskie, is a perfect example of our mission. John was running to honor his brother Kirk, who died trying to save the life of four of his brothers. Check out this inspiring story about Kirk here. I have to say that Kirk's story has influenced me like no other. He truly was a hero. I plan to dedicate the rest of my training this year and my run at the Rocky Raccoon 100 to Kirk. My efforts are only a drop in the ocean of honor that Kirk deserves.

My roommate from the 8th & I and Camp David days, Jeremy Kelly, met us at packet pickup and then we linked up with a bunch of the other runners at the hotel. It was great to see Geoff and Carla and meet some new Always Brothers family members at the hotel. It was great meeting Ken Hickman, JP, Gene and Mary Bryant, Kathryne, and John. They are some amazing folks. Everyone turned in early to get ready for the 5:30 am trip to the start line. On our way, we encountered another maze of lines, but it was lots of fun. We laughed and made jokes about classic Marine Corps hurry up and wait operations.

The start line was like nothing I've ever experienced or imagined. 30,000 people all lined up and ready to put themselves to the test. JK and I made our way to the 3:45 starting corral. We should have gone up to 3:15. I spent the first half of the race weaving my way through the mass of humanity that was making its way through the streets of northern VA and Georgetown. It was impossible to be anything but happy though. I was surrounded by people honoring their loved ones and my brothers. With marching bands, hilarious signs, and hordes of people cheering us on, it was truly an awe-inspiring scene.

I was treating this as just another training run. I was hoping for a marathon PR because that's just how I operate. I'm always pushing myself to get stronger. But, I wasn't really that focused on time. Two weeks ago I ran the New River 50K and PRed that course, so I wasn't sure how my body would react to another serious effort. The main goal (training wise) is to get ready for Rocky, so I didn't want to injure myself. The real goal for the day was to just have fun, honor my brothers, and encourage people whenever I could. It turned out to be a great day because I was able to accomplish all of these goals. Once I reached that halfway point, the crowed thinned out and I started getting after some serious negative splits. Check them out:

My favorite part of the course was a section on Haynes point that had the road lined with pictures of fallen heroes. It was inspiring, and it really put any perceived suffering into perspective. No matter how rough I might feel, it is nothing compared to what these men and women and their families have sacrificed. It as beautiful seeing so many people being honored.

As I rolled into the last 5 miles, I really pushed myself. I wanted to see how hard I could go as I finished up the race. It was so cool to see the Marines and spectators lining the course. My second favorite part of the course was the finish. It was all Marine. At mile 26, the course takes a sharp left turn straight up a hill to the Iwo Jima memorial. It was classic. Oh, you ran 26 miles? You're tired? Suck it up and climb this hill. Awesome!!

The finish of the race was fun. I felt great, and I was happy to beat my marathon PR by almost 10 minutes. The best part though? Seeing my Ginger and my friends at the finish. I was so proud of them. Carla, Geoff, JK, Kathryne, and Ken finished their first marathons in style. JP and Gene set new PR's. Ginger achieved a new marathon PR on a course that was not an easy one.

It was great to see everyone happy and feeling proud at the finish line. Check out Ginger and me celebrating some awesome hardware. She looks like she's at the start not the finish-bad ass!


JK finished in full-on beast mode and looked no worse for the wear.



All in all, it was a great event. We raised lots of money for Always Brothers and, most importantly, we honored some heroes. I'm glad we have some new members of the Always Brothers family. I'm looking forward to our next event in Ohio this Memorial Day. Hit me up if you are interested in joining this great cause. We will have relay teams for the 100 mile run in Ohio. Each team will honor a hero. We will also have some folks who will attempt the full 100. It won't be a race, though. It's about staying together and honoring those who make it possible for us to live the good life.

This week, I've been getting lots of work done at the office and keeping the training rolling. Rocky Raccoon, I'm coming for you!



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Always nice to PR on a Training Run- New River 50K

The last few weeks have been really busy at work, but I've been able to maintain my efforts at preparing to chase that Raccoon in Texas this February. I've been feeling strong on daily runs, and I've been enjoying some time on the trails most every day. Yellow Dog has been feel scrappy with the advent of the cool fall weather, so I've been letting him come along on some shorter runs. He is definitely over the distance running thing. At mile 5 he pretty much turns into a parachute dragging behind me. He'll tolerate another mile or so after that, but he's a mile 5 dog these days. And, that's OK by me. I'll happily take 10 more years of the occasional short run with him over a couple of years on long runs.

Last weekend I drove up to Fries, VA to do the New River Trail 50K. It was a fantastic race. The RD (Annette Bednosky) is a bad ass runner and she knows how to put on a solid race. The volunteers were great, the aid stations were well-stocked, and the vibe was awesome. There was a place to park the truck and crash within sight of the Start/Finish and the pre-race communication was top-notch. I drove up after a work function Friday night, rolled into the camp spot around 1 am, climbed in the back of the mobile dog house, and crashed out. Yellow Dog's bed is actually quite comfortable, and I had a great night's sleep. One of my favorite parts of the event is the 8 am start time. There is nothing like being able to wake up at 7:15, eat, get dressed, lace 'em up, and toe the line. It's way more civilized than having to get up at 2 am and start running at 4 am.

The first thing I noticed at the start line was that it wasn't your normal ultra crowd. I was surrounded by a bunch of super-skinnies. There weren't many diesels there looking to suffer for 6-7 hours. Local strongman and Masters' bad ass Doug Blackford pointed out that this race is a lot like a track meet. It was. The field was full of strong marathon runners looking for a Boston Qualifying Time (They have an official marathon split) and a 50K first time or PR. Lucky for me, I never go to a race to race anyone but myself. I'm no speed demon. I'm a grinder who just loves doing long distance. I was, however, looking for my own 50K PR. This race is the course to get one. The old course record was like 3:25 and I think it might have gotten crushed Saturday by someone. Not me though. After taking it on the chin in Leadville, I was hoping to turn this training run into a little redemption, and I was able to do just that. 4:55:58. I beat my best 50K time by 30 minutes. I have to say I'm pretty pleased with that.



I felt strong from the start.  I didn't go out of the gate all crazy though. I like to chat with folks and get into a nice rhythm. As it turns out, Jarheads are everywhere and I spent the first 5 miles chatting with a retired CH53E pilot and his wife who was also a Marine officer. We had a good time telling stories and laughing. When they stopped at the first aid station, I kicked into cruising mode, and got about the business of working towards my goal. One really interesting thing about this race is that it's basically flat. It's railroad grade, so unlike most ultras there is never an excuse to walk. Normally you have some big climbs that you power hike. Not this race. This race is all about keeping the legs churning. No walking needed. It's been a while since I did 31 miles without walking a step, and it felt great. I think it was a great warm up for the Marine Corps Marathon next week. Since that's only 26.2 and it's all road, there will be no walking. Glad I got into shorter/flatter race mode a little early. 

All in all, it was a great day. I got a nasty little blood blister on my toe because I didn't want to stop and clean some pebbles out of my Hokas. No biggie though. It has healed up quickly and won't be a problem. I was happy to get home that afternoon, hang out with Ginger, YD, Mookie, and some friends  (Ash and Lambeth) who were in town visiting. We went for a nice, short hike Sunday and then did a little sightseeing around Linville. It was really nice to hang out, relax, and chill with good friends after the race. I was happy to reach my goal, get a PR, and have a fun day. It was a great confidence builder in the build up to Rocky Raccoon. I took it easy Monday and took Tuesday off. I was back to my normal run today and felt strong. 

I'm looking forward to the trip to DC with the Always Brothers MCM runners next week. It will be so much fun to see Ginger rock out the marathon and see Geoff and Carla reach their marathon goal. Everyone has been training so hard, and I'm excited to see them have a great race day. The fact that we'll be honoring my brothers and raising a little money for Always Brothers is pretty amazing bit of icing on the cake. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

You hear that, Rocky? Raccoon hunting season is in full swing.

Week two of chasing the Raccoon was a pretty good one. I managed to work in four decent runs during the week-- even though work is a bit crazy right now. I wanted to stack up another decent week to build off last week's fun and games, so I had use up a lot of the weekend on the trail. Luckily, Ginger needed to do her MCM training long run on Saturday. That meant we got to spend the day together over in Damascus checking out the sights on the VA Creeper Trail. The plan was to do 16 together and then I'd tack on an extra four at  the end. Well, my math skills are not exactly, shall we say, strong. In fact, my math game is not tight at all. About a half mile from the turnaround (we were doing an out and back with a water jug stashed at mile 5), Ginger stepped off the trail for a second. I think she had to tie her shoe, so I said I'll keep going and we'll catch up at the flip flop. Well, I'm dumb and went a mile or so up the trail before I realized that the halfway point was 8 not 9. Duh, that meant, I had to haul ass to try to catch her before the she finished. I didn't. She was crushing it. She took 4 minutes off her time from when we last ran that 16 mile section. I was pushing it, and still couldn't catch her. Check out these splits:


It was a great workout though. I was crushed by the last two miles. First time in awhile I've done a run and really cracked myself. All in all, it was a great day. Sunshine, good times, a nice 20, and Ginger had a killer MCM training day.

I finished off the week by joining Carla and Geoff for their 13 miler at Moses Cone. I love those trails. It was another pretty day, and fall is coming quickly here in Boone. Running in the cool weather, without crazy humidity made for a great week. I ended up logging about 60 miles. I'm proud of all of the Always Brothers Marine Corps Marathon runner. Everyone has been killing it in training, and I think we'll have a great time in DC in October. Here are my totals for the week of MCM/Rocky training.

Not too bad for this early in Raccoon Hunting season. I'll back it off for the next two weeks. I'd like to do some hiking and let my legs recover a bit before I do my final prep for the New River 50k and Marine Corps Marathon in October. Those races are two weeks apart, so that'll make for a perfect beginning to the real build up for Rocky.

I'm pretty pleased with how my legs have been feeling after Leadville. I've been running stronger than I was before I went out there, and I'm feeling good about the possibility of a PR at Rocky in February. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Raccoon Hunting: Week 1

I enjoyed a couple of chill weeks since I got back from Leadville. I got back into the swing of things at work, processed the trip, and weighed my options for my next racing goals. I promised myself I would wait a couple of weeks before deciding what I'd do next. I kinda did that. I decided to run the New River 50K (Oct 12th) just because the race looks fun and the distance is a reasonable one that I could do just with normal running as I'm prepping for the Marine Corps Marathon with the Always Brothers team that we put together. I've enjoyed joining Ginger for her training runs, and I've been running with Carla and Geoff as they hit their long runs in their training. It's been fun to run with all of them and see how psyched they are with the progress they are each making. Ginger has been running really strong and having a good time. I'm so impressed with how she's taken a great approach to recovering from her injury last winter. I love running with her and enjoying the time on the trail with her. Carla and Geoff have really been an inspiration. Each week, I've joined them for their distance PRs and they have been doing a great job.

Last week, my Raccoon Hunting buddy Jim Cansler called and said he wanted to take another shot at the Rocky Raccoon 100. It was such a great weekend last year, that I couldn't say no. We will camp at the park, watch the superbowl and celebrate my birthday after. Ginger said she'd be happy to crew me and hopefully pace me for a few legs, so that was all the motivation I needed. I pulled the trigger and signed up. That means, that I have kicked off the latest 100 training cycle. I think Rocky is just what I need after Pbville. It'll be great to run a course I know and take a stab at a new 100 PR time. If nothing else, it'll set me up with a good fall/winter of training in case Pbville ends up being a goal for next summer. And, it'll just be an awesome trip.

I have felt really strong on every run since I recovered from Leadville. This week, I hit three strong 7 milers on Mon, Tues, and Wed. I took Thursday off, and did Ginger's long run with her this week. She did great and we had a nice average pace (9:26) for 16 miles- complete with negative splits for the second half. She's a beast! I took saturday off and ran with Geoff and Carla today. I ended up hitting 19 in 2:54 with some serious negative splits on the last 9 miles or so. I was psyched to finish with 8:42, 8:41, and 8:20 miles at the end. I felt great, and think the first week back went great. Here are the weekly totals.


It was a great week overall. I got to do some good runs, had a good week of classes, and got some cool news when I found out that a story on ESPN.com linked to my blog. I'm a sports junkie, and getting a link from the mothership is pretty much the highlight of my blogging career.

I've still been using the Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmacs for my smooth trail runs, but I've been looking for a trail shoe for tech trails to replace the La Sportiva Wildcats I've been wearing for years. The toe box is just too narrow now that my feet have mutated. I had been using the Hoka Stinson Evos, but I got some blisters at Leadville because that shoe just doesn't fit my foot quite right. I like the New Balance Leadvilles I had been wearing, but the sole just isn't grabby enough to be my go to tech trail shoe. If you got suggestions, send them my way. I'm a forefoot striker and I like a low drop, neutral shoe. I've been thinking Altras but I tried on a pair and I'm not sure the toe box is actually tall enough. It's plenty wide, but a little too low. Maybe I just need to try another size/model. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Race Across the Sky-- Well, half of the sky for me... this year anyway...

There really are not too many ways to say it. I got a beat down in Leadville this weekend. No excuses. I don't make 'em. I just didn't have it. I'm not used to setting a goal and falling short, so it certainly was a little tough to take. That being said, I don't feel like my race was a failure. A wise man once told me that as long as you learn from something it's not a mistake. And, I believe that about falling short of a goal. Sure, I'd much rather be telling the story of how I ate some doughnuts Sunday morning using my giant, baller, Pbville sub-25 finisher's buckle as a plate. Hell yeah I would. But, I'm not. The Reaper got me at Hopeless. I didn't make the time cut- got sent home. Well, sent back down the mountain to Twin Lakes, actually. But, I learned from it. I loved it. I reveled in the suffering and the satisfaction of knowing I laid myself bare on that course. I smiled at the beating I took. I'm pretty sure my brothers would be proud of how I represented them out there. I know Ginger, Lois, and the rest of my friends there saw that I gave everything I had, and they were awesome in supporting me. So, here's the story of the day. 

I started off with some excellent words of motivation in my head. Ginger put together a little book for me, much like the one Star made for Darris before Badwater, filled with messages from my friends. Little things, like a reminder to Harden the Fuck Up from Paul Gilman (a little taste of my own medicine there), a solid #chooseyourfriendsbetter from Kramer, and some very thoughtful advice from Brian O'Neill. O'Neill is my firefighter, Marine, literary genius, all around bad ass buddy from the Always Brothers family. He gave me a battle cry of sorts to carry with me for the day: Molon Labe, which basically means Come and Take. This was, reportedly, the reply King Leonidas gave to the Persians when they demanded the Spartans surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae. As we left the hotel at 3:30 am Saturday morning, I grabbed a sharpie and scrawled this mantra on my hand. 

The scene at the starting line was wild. 800 or so folks lined up and ready to attempt the feat of racing across the sky. At 4 am the gun (literally- no sissy starter pistol) went off and we began shuffling down 6th street towards Turquoise Lake. The first 13 miles ticked off uneventfully. I felt pretty good and made sure I didn't go out too fast. I was still unsure of how starting a race at 10,200 feet was going to feel. When we hit the single track around the lake, I settled in with a group moving a little slower than my planned pace. I was OK with that. I had figured out by mile 7 that going sub 25 was not really a realistic goal for me this year. I just couldn't maintain that pace without my heart rate going too high. No worries, though. I felt good at a slightly slower pace and wanted to make sure I followed the advice I'd been given: Be patient. The second half of the race can't happen if the first half kills you. I made it to May Queen (mile 13.2) feeling pretty good and was happy to see Ginger and Lois, who had everything I needed and quickly got me moving again. 

The climb away from May Queen up Hagerman Pass was much burlier than I had anticipated. The elevation was hurting me more than I thought it would. I felt slow and out of shape. But, I told the mountains to Come and Take and chatted with my fellow runners with a smile on my face. Silently suffering. The views were unreal. We climbed a thousand feet or so and looked back down that lake. All I could think was, "Damn, this place is gorgeous!"I really do love Leadville. The mountains are surreal. 

After the climb to the top of the pass, I careened my way down the Powerline to the aid station at Outward Bound (mile 23ish). Feeling a little rough from the climb, I was a little shaken by the fact that I was so far behind my goal pace and only an hour ahead of the cut off. I was going as fast as I could without blowing up. But, I just kept pushing. I reminded myself to enjoy the day- to enjoy the view. I wanted to take in the scene and remember that this was, as my "sister" Star said, "My Leadville Day" when she alluded to the St. Crispin's day speech from Henry V. I knew it didn't matter what pace I held. The only thing that mattered was that I held the best pace I could. So I did. Through the blazing sun I shuffled along. 

I can't say I really enjoyed the section between Outward Bound and HalfPipe. It was mostly road, and mostly exposed. I'm a trail runner. The scenery was nice, but were WAY too many cars on the road and it was HOT. But, I reminded myself that this was an Ultra and not a day on the beach. If it was easy, everyone would be here. If it was easy, my friends would not fly across the country to crew/pace me. It was easy, my friends would not wax poetic about St. Crispin or King Leonidas. If it was easy, I wouldn't be here because I wouldn't like it. I am a Marine, and I don't like things to be easy. So, I shuffled on. Telling myself to HTFU, drink water, and telling the damn course: Molon Labe. 

I rolled into  the Treeline crew station feeling very bad. I was hot, dizzy, and worried. I had been doing a run/walk combo for a few miles now. I was trying to follow the advice of not going out too fast, and I was losing way too much time. I was less than 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff. "WTF?! How is the happening," I asked myself. I trained my ass off for this, and couldn't understand why I was so slow. But, I perked up a bit when I saw Ginger and Lois. They gave me some much needed fluid, food, and sunscreen. I continued on towards Halfpipe feeling better. 

I got back into a running rhythm for a while, rolled through Halfpipe and started the climb towards the Mt. Elbert water station. Then, the wheels came off. I ate a Cheer Pack and promptly puked. "Shit," I thought, "these things ALWAYS work." Not this time. I was at mile 31 and life was NOT good. I walked for a while, got my stomach settled and distracted myself by talking to my fellow pilgrims on the road to pay homage at Hope Pass. The climb was rough. It seemed to last forever, but I finally hit the water station and began the decent to Twin Lakes. 

And, here the Persian Army of the Pbville course, took a little piece of me. It took the piece that mattered most for my race. I could not run the decent. Even though it was downhill, I would puke every time I tried to run. I couldn't understand it. I was hydrated. I had been eating well for the first 25 miles. I had settled my stomach after the mile 31 incident, but now at mile 37 or so, I was puking every time I tried to run. I needed to make up time. I'm usually a fast descender. I can make up time on a downhill without getting out of control. Not today. To make matters worse, walking down the hill was making my left knee feel like a knife was stuck in it. Not good. I wanted to quit. It's hard to admit that. But, I did want that more than anything-- for a minute. But, I knew that wasn't what I really wanted. What I really wanted was to fight these metaphorical Persians to the end. So I did. I kept pushing on, and I kept trying to have fun in the process. I chatted with folks who were also suffering on the decent and even scored a cold Coors as I approached Twin Lakes from a nice couple who'd come out to watch the carnage. 

"A Coors?! How can you drink a beer in the middle of a 100 miler?!" you ask- with a disapproving look. Yes, A Coors. I don't know why, but it made perfect sense to me. I wanted a beer. I was in a dark place and a beer seemed like a good flashlight. It was. I only drank half of it, and I started feeling better. I wish you could see the looks people were giving me as I rolled into the aid station at Twin Lakes with a water bottle in one hand and a beer in the other. Priceless. 

I was feeling better, but I knew time was not on my side. I told Ginger I was in trouble. I was only 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff entering Twin Lakes. I told her my knee was hurting and I thought I was done. She reminded me that I still had 15 minutes, and I might start feeling better soon. So, I changed my shoes, grabbed my coat in case weather came while I was on the Pass, and headed towards the climb at Mt Hope. 

I did feel better. I started running and the nausea was gone. My knee pain- gone. Wow, Coors is the wonder drug! The river crossing was refreshing and I was buoyed by the fact that I'd made it out of Twin Lakes before the leaders passed me on their way back to town. "Hell," I thought, "they are only 19 miles ahead of me. That ain't bad, really." And it isn't. I have no illusions about how these races go. I'm not there racing anyone else. I race myself and the course. And that race was going great again. 

Until the climb began. Mt. Hope punched me square in the jaw. Check out the elevation profile of the course here (remember the starting point is 10,152 feet): 

The last spike, that's the climb to Hope Pass. And this is where the taking happened. I promised myself I would tackle the trouble that came my way with a cheerful and resolute heart. I promised myself I'd wear the blackened eyes the course would give me with a smile and bounce higher every time I got knocked down. I did the best I could. The climb punched, and I absorbed. I could hardly breathe and each step seemed oddly difficult. The grade seemed way steeper than it really was. I knew the clock was ticking, but I soldiered on. I kept thinking, "If I can get to the Pass in time, I can make it to Winfield before the 6 pm cut no problem. It'll be downhill and I can run without puking now. But, it wasn't to be. I made it a half mile from the Hopeless Aid Station, and at mile 43.5 I was told by a course volunteer to turn back. I had missed the 4:15 cut off for Hopeless. My race was over. Well, I still had to descend the pass. I still had to go 4.5 miles to get back to Twin Lakes. 

It was brutal. I honestly don't remember the last time I set a goal and didn't make it like this. I mean, I've run races slower that I'd hoped, I'd had articles rejected at work, but I have never been cut from a race. I'd never let the metaphorical Persians Come and Take. I had a couple of hours to think about this as I slowly trudged back to Twin Lakes. And here's what I decided. 

They can still Molon Labe. Those bastards didn't really take anything from me. While I went to Leadville with the goal of a sub 25 finish (or at least a finish), I didn't fail. Sure, I didn't reach my race goal. But, that isn't the real reason I run. I run because it love it. I run because it lets me challenge myself- let's me find the ragged edge and look over it without any real danger. It also lets me honor my fallen brothers. Mostly importantly, it lets me see new places, and share them with people I love. Well, I did every bit of that at Leadville. I fought until the clock said I could fight no more, and I loved it all. 

Thanks to Ginger, Lois, Reeve, and Kramer for coming to support me. Thanks to all of my friends and family who sent me good vibes and words of encouragement. Now it's time to get on a place (if we don't miss this one), and go home. I miss my Yellow Buddy and Mookie. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And once more into the breach we go...

So, here it is. About six months ago today, as I was recovering from the Rocky Raccoon 100, I pulled the trigger on Leadville. I've enjoyed every second of my training for this run-- even the seconds that sometimes felt like work-- especially the seconds that forced me to reach deep inside to keep moving forward. All the hay is officially in the barn. Ginger and I did nice 5 miles in Frisco, Colorado this morning  (9,100 feet), and I felt great! The legs are ready and the lungs are willing.


And now, it's time for the payoff. The prize. Race day. I'm am ready. I have put the time in. I have put the miles in, and I'm ready to enjoy some time on the mountain. It'll be hard. I will go to a dark place, but I will revel in the ability to challenge myself. To feel that rush of excitement when you know you are doing something difficult. And when it gets hard, I'll have lots to help me find my way out of the pain cave. First, I'll remember all the support and understanding that Ginger has given me. She has been great about indulging my love of going on long runs. She has always made me feel good about going out for a run. Second, I'll have the support of the rest of my family and friends who encouraged me and continue to encourage me. Reeve and Kramer are coming halfway across the country to pace me. I gotta put on a show! Third, I'll have the support of my brothers. My Always Brothers family who motivate me to push myself. Most notably, I'll have the memory of my boy Mike Boelk turning himself inside out last weekend as he ran 100 Miles in Seattle for Always Brothers. He and Chris Pratt ran all 100 miles in a little over 27 hours, and it was a thing of beauty. I have never seen someone willing to suffer as hard as Mike did. I have also never seen a group of men and women come together to support a goal like I did last weekend. I watched Dan push himself to unspeakable places to honor our cause. Countless people (I'm looking at you Tami and Barbara) ran more than twice their PR distances. Dan, Paul, Allen, Jim, Tami, Bob, and so many others (many of whom we'd never met) were there every step of the way to support Mike, Chris, and all the runners as we made out way to the finish. My Always Brothers family will be with me this weekend. I'll also be running for Tyler, Dustin and all of his Lima Co brothers, and all those who can't. So, yes, Leadville is for me, but it is also my way of honoring those who make it possible for us to seek out challenges like Leadville.

So with apologies to Edmund Vance Cooke, I allude to and borrow some of his fine words that Brian O'Neill shared with us in Ohio. I look forward to Saturday morning when I head out to tackle that trouble that I've brought my way. When it beats me to the earth, I vow to come up with a smile on my face until I reach the end. I will battle my best and be proud of any blackened eye that the mountains deal me. I will play my part in the world and give everything I have. Then, I will find some more to give.